Rituals, routines and the home.

 

 

A few years ago ago I lived in a small town in the South West of England. It was a place I lived for some time although I never came to think of as home. It was a place of in between’s.

And that was exactly how I felt too.

In the evenings I would take my dog for a walk. It was always early evening and a time of people coming home from work. It was a time of  homes filling with light and warmth – meals being prepared and eaten, televisions flickering in the corners of lamp-lit rooms, and an over arching feeling of people coming together; of families returning to their source.

There was one house which always caught my eye. A tall Victorian terrace house, whose kitchen was on the basement level. Looking through the window into that kitchen you could see a wooden table, with chairs seated all around it. A soft lit lamp cast yellow-gold shadows over a wine bottle, a teapot, the pictures on the wall and a fireplace at the far end of the room.

 

 

 

 

It spoke of home to me in so many ways, and articulated a need in me for a sense of belonging, which that room represented so pertinently.

 

I saw security, routine, ritual – the everyday minutiae and magnitude of life all beautifully captured in that one ordinary domestic scene.

 

When I became a mother, that idea of home, and what home meant occupied my thoughts a great deal. It meant looking back towards my own childhood, remembering what mattered to me then, in terms of what there was, but also, and perhaps harder and more complex to define; what was missing from it too.

 

In becoming a family I have thought about what being a family means to me – and what I want it to mean for my children. And in doing so the words I keep returning to, like a mantra are ritual and routine.

 

 

 

 

It wasn’t so long ago that I was a someone who was all about the ritual and rarely the routine. The former seeming so more dramatic, important, cooler.

 

Routine by comparison seemed so dull, and in truth I was fearful of it; it seemed to speak of entrenched habit but without feeling, of being trapped and in many ways being lonely and unhappy.

 

But as time went by and my inner wisdom grew a little wiser, and I became alongside that a little more reflective of my own naive follies – my thoughts around those two words began to change.

 

I began to yearn for the sanctuary of routine – suggesting to me then, as it rightly does anyway – belonging, safety and commitment. To know that whilst the world moves around you, changeable, unpredictable and progressive – those small cyclical aspects of your life that you return to again and again, can be the very things that keep you grounded, anchored and centered. In short, the very things that keep you safe.

 

 

 

 

And, in turn, that understanding and acceptance of the word, it’s reappraisal  – showed me that without routine – ritual alone is a shallow and essentially meaningless pursuit. The two words need each other to make meaning.

 

Purpose being given meaning, and meaning given purpose.

 

 

With the time of Samhain around us, and the longer, darker nights here for the winter ahead, it seems to be the best time to be thinking about these thoughts and feelings around the ideas of home and family.

 

Having spent this rare, long wonderful summer beneath the open skies as much as possible, it is now the time to go small, to return to our home, lighting fires, bringing in wood, wellies by the back door and scarves on the hooks. Knowing that we will spend more time together here at home, it seems right to learn, gather and find what rituals and routines are important to us as a family, and to embroider these little personal ways within the patchwork of our winter days.

 

So that our days, however beautifully ordinary and imperfect, can have a meaning of us as a family, in all the ways we are.

 

 

Sharing Stories. We are all storytellers.

 

We are surrounded by stories, and stories are everywhere.

We are each made up of layers upon layers of stories, and it is precisely these stories, wrapping themselves around us like a magic cloak, that work to inform and shape our identities; telling others who we are, and perhaps most importantly, telling ourselves, of who we are.

I have always loved stories. As a child I would reach out an ear, ready for the stories I would hear the grown-ups tell.

My maternal Grandmother was French and I loved hearing the stories of a different country that felt like home. The romance of a different and beautiful language, and all those second-hand tales of Convent schools, rosary beads and difficult nuns clicking down the corridors, fierce looks on their faces.

My. Grandmother Jacqueline Delance – she has written ‘To my Eric’ on the photograph. Eric was her husband. My Grandpa…

There is a story that my Great-Grandpa may have helped the Resistance during the war. He was buried with emblem of the  Croix-De-Lorraine on his coffin. We were told later, that this was a known symbol for those who supported, or were members of Free French. A kind of shared secret code for those who assisted, or took part in Resistance work.

If my Great-Grandpa did so, he never spoke of them. Some stories, are not for the telling. They are to imagined and revered, and to be wondered at. They are certain stories that remain elusive and full of mystery.

My English Grandpa made wonderful home-movies (which we discovered years after he had passed away, in my Uncle’s attic) These wonderful cine films, brought to life my Great-grandparents, French markets and my Mum when she was a little girl.

My Dad, meanwhile, came from generations of farmers. And these stories were more earthy, more rooted in land and hard work.

My Great Grandfatber, Harry, and my Grandad, Wilf. Taken in a field with a champion crop of flax in 1940.

My Grandparents had an Italian Prisoner of war who worked on their farm. He took my Dad out into the fields with him, keeping him safe by strapping him to the helm of a horse-cart, while he worked.

I look at my Dad, and these stories feel so important. They explain to me who he was as a boy. And they explain the father he is to me now.

These stories I took as my own; absorbing their adventures, and turning them into pocket-fables. These worlds of charm, heartbreak and love, that I could turn into life-lessons and learn from.

Later, as I grew older and looked beyond my family for stories, I learnt in the same way I had at my Mothers knee, to listen out for stories in public places – on buses, trains, queues at post offices and across tables in busy cafe’s.

Stories strangers shared with you on late night train rides, or waiting for taxis in heavy snow. This was before mobile phones, when talk was all around, when a good gossip happened over a counter, rather than on a Facebook timeline.

But that isn’t to say that Social Media doesn’t promote or encourage storytelling. In fact Instagram, for instance, puts storytelling at the heart of what it does best; bringing people together by the stories and images that are shared.

On Instagram, you can find such beautiful examples of storytelling, and for me, the best kind. Small insights into little moments, which in themselves speak of larger narrative arcs hidden behind them.

People who are brave enough to share a story, and to contribute towards building a lexicon of daily life; from the momentous to the minutiae, with a picture that draws you in, and an accompanying thread of a story written beautifully beneath it.

Creating a little world laid out in words and images, inviting you to imagine the rest.

The difficulty is to slow down long enough to take them in. To resist the urge to move on to the next story and the next, but instead to stop and pause, to take some moments to really listen. We should all be doing more of that. After all,  a good story will always need an even better listener for it to really come to life.

There is, of course, the argument that Instagram can be seen as idealistic or contrived, by offering up the best narrative versions of ourselves and the lives we lead.

But isn’t it also true that the art of a good storyteller is to do precisely that? To present a story with a little spin and polish. To take an event, a memory, a glance, and by breathing the storytellers magic upon it; illuminating it into something meaningful ~ something memorable. Something magical.

A passing moment, which becomes an open door to a tale,  no matter how ordinary its setting.

So my stories here – the stories I write, the snippets of my days I collect in notebooks – the photographs I keep, and the pictures I take – are all the stories I want to hand on to my children.

And as we move along through our days, our seasons, our years, more stories will pass through.

Telling stories that tell us of who we are…. 🍃🍃🍃🍃

gathering together, staying in & letting go.

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Happy New Year and hello to January of 2018.

I have been quiet for some time on my blog now. I have struggled these past two months or so, with a really difficult feeling of not knowing what to write, feeling awkward writing anything, and just experiencing a disquieting eerieness about the whole situation. I never usually have trouble writing, even if its just lines in my diary. I find the process soothing, and for me, a way of making sense of my days. So to be stuck in the middle of an unwelcome and bewildering silence has made me lose my confidence a little.

To be honest, writing now, feels like that first clumsy and stiff morning on your first day back at school from a long summer holiday; when you find yourself holding a new pencil in your hand, and it feels as though you are holding a plank of wood between your fingers.

The ideas and thoughts for this post, therefore, have come from that sense of alienation and worry I experienced, feeling a little lost without the words to express what I was thinking about, and in truth, not having any clarity of thought anyway. A combination of Christmas, the Winter Solstice, New Year and the enevitable quietness of January have all given me some time for reflection. And perhaps, afterall, that is what I have needed. Perhaps I just need to start from the beginning again.

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Coincidentally I have also spent most of this new year thinking and reflecting. I have been following a process called the January Book. Devised by the sylist and writer Hannah Bullivant (I found out about it via her amazing instagram account, and her beautiful website, which you can find at http://www.seedsandstitches.com), it is a way of outlining plans for your coming year by focusing on key areas of your life, dividing them into catergories such as family, career, finances and home, and by a process of reflecting on those areas, making a sustainable plan for the year ahead.

And in addition, we have been having a little more renovation to our home (from having a door made for the bathroom, where previously there was none) to having a partition wall put up between the living room and the sunroom (a rather grand term for what really is a little extension with a perspex roof) It has meant a lot of noise, a lot of mud and mess, and a feeling of being completely overwhelmed at having to tidy up ready for the next day, and not knowing where to begin.

But most of all I am really starting to notice a gathering change in my two little girls, as they are growing up from babies to little toddlers, and it is this realisation that has had the biggest emotional effect on me overall. I have loved every moment of them being babies – and the poignant reminder that if my IVF treatment hadn’t been succesful I would never have been able to experience any of it, has made it even more so.

And it is there I suspect all the answers to my wordless stories lie. Being quiet was neccesary for some thinking, and all my thinking was about change – and in reflecting on change, I began to see that it was all about letting go.

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About love and memory….

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There is something about glitter on home made Christmas cards that makes me feel safe and warm. Trying to describe it to you now, it feels like this: I catch a half glimpse of a half-memory; the contents of  small tubes of brightly coloured glitter – silver, red, green and gold – pouring out onto a blank piece of paper, to be made into a card, possibly to be given to my Mum and Dad.

I have also woven other elements into this vignette. A window, outside of which leaves of gold swirl in the mist. A warm radiator. An anticipated thought that I will be wearing a woollen scarf later when I go outside. There is also a larger sense of family somewhere. Belonging to people. Home. Whispered children’s breath misting up a window pane. Fingertips making steamy circles on the warmed up glass.

This particular memory comes back to me every year in early Autumn. Its arrival feels like welcoming an old friend, ‘Ah, there you are, come and have a seat at my table.’ I am aware it is nostalgia but it doesn’t really matter. It is a memory.  Through memory and imagining, Autumn has become a falling cascade of glitter and leaves. Who wouldn’t want to remember that?

But It isn’t just the glitter and the leaves that make me feel this way. As I grow older, memories of warmth and safety become infused with ideas of love and morality, decency and goodness. All these truths inform my world, by wrapping themselves around it like a cloak made of velvet. At times when you are faced with uncertainty and unpredictability, these are the beacons that can guide you home to your soul.

So what exactly are these truths? For me, like those small tubes of glitter, they are often little things and in themselves, perhaps nothing much at all.  A line from a book. A poem. A letter weathered from being unfolded and read many times over. Music. A kind gesture from someone that you return to again and again, possibly only realising its significance to you much later on. Kindness. Kindness. Kindness.  These all contribute towards a much greater picture, a living memory that chimes by your side, as a kind of compass reminding you of who you are, or even a guide back towards the person who you want to be.

And perhaps after all – the lessons we should learn about memories and love are really quite simple after all. If we think of them as touchstones and totems by which we can measure our present and future selves. By being grateful for the things that have touched us and by what we choose to remember with love.

Things to do when its raining…..

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Last weekend my lovely friend, Richard, came to stay. It was a Sunday afternoon, The kind of slightly damp, not very cheerful afternoon that makes you want to light the fire and settle in. We had walked the dogs, the girls had run around outside, in the mizzle and in their wellies. And we were now at home, reading the Sunday paper, drinking tea and watching the girls.

I leant over to the section of the paper that neither of us were likely to read (the Sport, sorry) and I tried to make a paper hat. You know the kind. A basic paper hat, made from newspaper. A proper thrifty, make-do-and-mend paper hat. And something I used to make all the time when I worked with children. But the thing was I just couldn’t remember how to make one. And it really, really annoyed me.

(In the end I ended up making two very strange paper bonnets, that made the girls look like characters from Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale.)

So, in lieu of that failure, I have decided to add a category here of easy to make, old-fashioned, activities and objects. And my first post will definitely be that paper hat!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friends, sisters and Social Media

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I would love to have had a sister….

One of the things I loved most when I discovered I was expecting twin girls, was the thought that they would always have each another. From the very beginning, sharing a womb together, then when they were born, those first few days of being swaddled together in one blanket; their little noses pressed against one another.

When the nurse first came to me after they were born, she asked if I wanted them in separate cots. But I knew I wanted them to be kept together, it didn’t seem right to separate them so quickly and so decisively, with no discernible reason as to why it would need doing. I remember one night when Eliza was crying, I watched as Florence put her hand instinctively into Eliza’s mouth, and let her suck her fingers for comfort. It was the most beautiful thing I had seen and told me so much about how these two girls felt. in separate cots, there would have been little opportunity for them to comfort one another.

A year and a half later and they no longer share a cot, but each have their own, side by side with one another still. . They can see each other, and I often hear them gurgling and cooing to one another, after I have left the room and tiptoed away. On waking, they always give each other a big smile and a kiss. These small gestures fill me with hope for the kind of bond they will have between them. Be loving, I whisper to them. Be loving, and be kind.

 

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Sisters and friends…

When I was about 10 years old I had a notebook I carried around with me, and I would ask people to write things in it, poems, or doodles, drawings, elaborate signatures… I think I was looking for wisdom, back then, collecting folklore from people, and building up stories that people told me.  It was my Dad, who wrote a little verse that has stuck in my head ever since. This is it

Make new friends but keep the old

Some in silver 

Some in gold

At the time I remember him explaining that as we move through our life we meet, and make friends, with new and different people along the way. Some of them, the silver one’s, burn brightly and stay with us for awhile. Others, those in gold, stay by our sides, golden and eternal. It was something I desperately needed to hear at the time, I was being horribly bullied and desperately lonely at school. I wanted a friend, a best friend. It was something I asked my Mum all the time, when will I have a best friend? Having two daughters now, it breaks my heart a little to think of the little me that felt so lonely and wanted to make friends.

Fast forward a few years to a sixteen year old version of myself, with hennaed hair and Doc Martin boots; wearing White Musk by the Body Shop and obsessed with The Cure. I went to college and met my friend! A tall, graceful, curly haired girl with boots and thick black tights. I remember the toilets being flooded and feet sploshing in half a foot of water, we started talking – discovering in lightning quick time, as you are able to do at that age, that we had both been to Glastonbury and had lots and lots more in common.

That friendship was, and remains, the most important and cherished of my life so far. In my friendship I found all the things I was so desperate to find as a young girl – someone to share my secrets with, someone to laugh with and to talk about make up and boys with. And over the years we did just that. We grew up together, I guess,  and no matter in which direction either of us went, we always managed to stay in the parallel lanes; we could always follow and appreciate each others path.

So when, in our early thirties our friendship came to a startling and bewildering halt, it felt like all the certainties I had carried around with me, in terms of who I was and what I would be, were suddenly all changed. I no longer had my best friend and that isolation felt particularly poignant when I came to be a Mum.

I was very lucky to meet a wonderful circle of women who all had babies at the same time as me. The support I got from these women during those long, but oddly blissful nights of the first few months was fantastic. Late night, what’s app messages, where we shared fears, and questions and asked for advice from one another. Without a partner, it was so important for me to have these women who gave me confidence and encouraged me. And it also occurred to me how these late night messages, shared in real time between women, was a relatively new and hugely meaningful mode of communication. It made me think of the real loneliness I had heard mothers sometimes speak of, feeling unsure, bewildered and having no one to turn to, or to ask for advice and support. We were able to call on each other, and to speak across the silences of our little rooms, nursing our babies, and ask one another ‘am I doing this right?’

Sisters and Social Media

Since then, I have actively sought out on-line support from a circle of on-line women, who I have found, and who I am able to gather experience, advice, inspiration and encouragement from. I have discovered amazingly beautiful blogs, fabulous Instagram accounts with great content, that are both inspiring and creative. These mediums, offer women, who don’t necessarily have that real life sister, best friend, mother or mother-in-law close by, a wonderful circle of sisters to learn from.

And with that, I have to say a big thank you to the following ladies who have been such a support to me over these last few months. Their online presence has meant a lot.

 

http://www.tigerlillyquinn.com/

(a lovely, genuine kind, funny mum of two – you can find her on her website/blog, Instagram and YouTube)

http://www.seedsandstitches.com/

(A wonderfully creative and inspiring blog and also brilliant Instagram account)

http://www.thewoodlandwife.co.uk

(A thoughtful, inspiring, nurturing and ethical blog and Instagram account lady)

thatyogamum

(A totally amazing, supportive yoga teacher, who believes passionately in supporting mums and women, generally. Great Instagram account too).

 

 

 

 

Rituals, celebrations and every day.

 

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We will soon be moving into our new home. The three of us together. These last few months have been a funny time ~ packing up, throwing out, sorting, discovering, discarding and making. Moving home is such a strange and unsettling thing. I have moved house more times than I care to mention. Some have been so unremarkable in their happening that I hardly remember them at all. Others have involved long distances and new countries. Leaving one home tore my heart open and took me a very long time to get over, so much so that I still dream of it. A kind of childhood Manderlay, unchanged and welcoming.

Having experienced moving so many times, it seems from experience and reflection, that the reason it unsettles and bothers us, is because in the packing of our things, it is as if we are literally dissembling our carefully built world we have spent so long spinning and gathering around ourselves. Now it is time we transfer and transform our new worlds into our new homes, and we do so knowing that we cannot help but be changed in the process of it. It is that change which is both unsettling and exciting, New beginnings, but which one? And who will we become because of it?

This move is different in many ways. I am now a home owner, swapping the fluctuating, precariously fragile world of house renting for something more responsible, more stable but daunting nonetheless. Gone are the days of gathering friends, and sometimes strangers to share with, making little families out of people you don’t really know. I know, with a deep sigh, that I will be able to find that sense of rootedness, which I have wanted for so long. To know that I won’t need to be on the move, unless it is of our choosing.

So, with all that in mind, I have been thinking about what kind of family life we will have in the house. what kind of family we will be. How we will we mark our days, how we will carve out the celebrations, occasions and the everyday of our family home. I think it will be about building our identities and weaving our memories. it will be the story of becoming us.

 

 

 

 

 

A day like this

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What does an ordinary day look like? The sun rises, the sun sets and a there is a day’s worth of living in-between. And the living in-between is the thing. Sometimes, a day can feel like a lifetime, and others go by so quickly that you barely have chance to look around you, before it has all passed you by, and you are saying goodnight to the moon.

Since becoming a Mum, one of the many, unexpected, things that I have learnt is the way that a day will tumble into the next, and that there is never any time in-between to absorb and reflect on any of the amazing things that you see, feel and experience along the way. Your heart can swell with love one moment, then tears spring to your eyes the next. The smallest thing, like her first teeth showing in a cheeky smile, or a chubby hand clutching at a flower – and suddenly that deep unfathomable well of love, and pride and disbelief at the total amazing beauty if it all, comes rushing to the surface.

Yet, as my friend told me the other day, these deep feelings can arise out of a day that can be sometimes so unremarkable in its banality and ordinariness. Days where its all about the continuing cycle of breakfast and dish washing, clothes washing and drying, vacuuming, more tidying, more cooking, washing and ……

But it is within those routines and inevitabilities that the beauty comes through. in the knowledge that you are doing what you are doing for your family, that the sacred moments of heart stopping love sustain you like nothing else on earth, and that the routine, ordinariness, and rituals you create, are what gives your family shape and cohesion. The act of doing all that, however dreary, tiring and repetitive is ultimately that which creates security and safety.

You do what you do, for them, and you do what you do for them out of love.

Let it be….What it means to be the only parent to your child.

I made a conscious choice to have my children by myself, through IVF. Throughout my pregnancy I never felt alone or that something (or someone was missing). To me, it felt as it should be. My Mum and Dad were so kind and supportive, and I will always be so thankful to my Mum for helping me through those last stages of my pregnancy when I needed help to have a bath, get dressed and do just about anything really.

In those last few weeks I developed a horrible itchy rash, caused by an overload of female hormones from carrying twin girls. There wasn’t a second where my skin didn’t itch. My mum would help me into a bath – the only thing that seemed to temporarily relieve the pain – and sometimes at 3 in the morning, I would have to heave myself into the bath tub, sobbing my eyes out and feeling very miserable, whilst my mum patiently dabbed my skin with a soft cloth, telling me that everything would be OK. (Without a hint of weariness that she was repeating herself for the hundredth time that day.)

It was my Dad that came with me for the scan that would tell me that I was expecting  twins. I will write about that part of the story later on, but enough to say that it seemed unlikely I was going to hear any heartbeats. My Dad drove me the two hour drive to Cardiff for my scan, and showed such kindness in a situation that could have been very, very difficult. Because of their kindness, I never felt alone or by myself, and when I came out of the scan room, holding my scan photo and smiling at my Dad, it was something I will always treasure.

Thank you, Mum and Dad for such kindness and love. May that I be able to give just as much to my daughters, should they ever need me to.

Now my children are entering their toddler stage, they will begin developing language and understanding that will broaden their understanding of the world and, in turn, their identity and place within it. I do think about our family structure, and whilst I know we are happy, and the girls are growing beautifully – I know there will come a time soon when I will begin to talk to them about our lovely little family and how we came to be. It is not our differences to others I want to emphasise – but perhaps our uniqueness. And above all, I want them to be very proud of how this family was made. It is the stuff of wonder, really.

I was out with some Mum friends and their children on Monday, and we were all sitting on the grass having a picnic and watching our children play together. One of my friends began to read a book to the children ‘I love my Daddy’, and I saw her look at me as if to say; ‘Is this OK?’, which, of course, it was. I make know secret of how much I love mine, and how proud of him I am, so I would want every child who had a father to feel the same.

Its just that my girls do not have a father, and I did think, and always have done, will they miss not having a Daddy? Will they mind too much when everyone else is talking about theirs?

I think it is times when I’m tired, when there isn’t anyone to breathe in the wonder of it all with me, that I think about what it means to parent by yourself. It can be tempting to get a bit serious, and worry a little too much, without that other person by your side to experience it with, and to maybe laugh with when you’re tired and things haven’t gone as smoothly as you hoped. Someone to bring you a cup of tea and place a  safe arm around your shoulder.

But that really is about me, what I want for me, not neccesarily what my children want or need. And then, I remind myself… Let it be….Let it be…. I am raising two daughters who smother me in kisses, who smile and giggle and show all the signs of being inquisitive, loving, passionate girls. Everything is as it should be. I’m doing OK. x